California love*

Happy camper, right here. So happy, in fact, I'm doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

California sun and a nice drink make for a happy camper. So happy, in fact, that I’m doing that face where I look like a cartoon.

I’m usually in a bit of a funk after I come back from a good trip somewhere. You know, the ol’ post vacation blues. But since coming back from California last week, where I spent a damn near perfect eight days, I’ve managed to not only not be mopey, but rather hold on to my vacation high!

Gorgeous weather in both Los Angeles and San Francisco (read: sunshine, cool breezes and not a single tiny bit of humidity), amazing friends who showed me the best time, and for the purposes of this blog: SO. MUCH. DELICIOUS. FOOD. Seriously, SO much.

Come think of it, if i’m still buzzing off my vacation, it could be that I’m actually still digesting all of the great things I ate. I know, it’s kind of a gross thought, but it’s true. I ate a lot of stuff.  Tasty stuff that I’m gonna tell you about a little at a time so as to not overwhelm anyone (myself included) with all of my California grubbing memories.

ceviche

Problems I like to have: too much delicious ceviche

To start off, let’s talk ceviche, which I looove.  Fresh, colorful, zesty, delicious ceviche, which is just the kind I had with my darling friend, Arlene at La Cevicheria in LA.  It was a no-frills kind of place, but the ceviche we had, both humongous bowls of it, was great. They were both different, but to be honest, in my hunger induced frenzy to wolf it all down as soon as it came out, I forgot to jot down what they were. What I can tell you though, is that octopus, shrimp and crab were involved, as were limes, avocado, onions, Worcestershire sauce and something I don’t remember ever having in ceviche before but loved, mint. Add a little dash of hot sauce and scoop a big heap on to a crispy tostada and you’re looking at a fantastic meal.

fish taco

Not surprising that a place that makes great ceviche would make fantastic fish tacos.

But because I tend to struggle with moderation at times like these, we also got an order of fish tacos. Each soft tortilla was stuffed with a fat, juicy hunk of crispy fried fish, shredded cabbage, avocado, tomato and cilantro.  Simple and perfect, one of the best fish tacos I’ve had.

It was my first time in LA, and even though I was prepared to not like it (because I imagined it would be the Miami of the west coast, and that’s an off-putting thought for me), I ended up loving the City of Angels.  It was the weather, the beautiful people (i.e. my friends) and yes, the delicious seafood I scarfed down that afternoon.

La Cevicheria on Urbanspoon

 

*Note: Yes, the title of this post is a Tupac reference, cause you know what, I’m a big ol’ Tupac fan.  Boom. Chew on that. 

Once upon a time in Mexico

Starting the vacation off right with some ceviche

I recently came into a nice bit of money (thanks to scalped tickets and this year’s tax return) and instead of being a responsible adult and putting it in my savings account or towards paying off one of my credit cards or student loans, I used it to cure my latest bout of wanderlust. Being responsible and prudent is so boring, don’t you think? Traveling, eating and using accumulated vacation days is so much more fun!

And so Flaneur and I planned a little trip south of the border, to Mexico, where several people I know (including my perpetually wrong parents) told me I shouldn’t go. Something about drug wars, kidnappings and mass graves. But we went and came back and had an amazing time in between so all turned out well.

We spent a great week lounging on beaches, deepening our tans (or just mine actually, since Flaneur insisted on wearing spf 500), exploring small towns and Mayan ruins, and of course stuffing our faces with delicious and most-of-the-time-ridiculously-cheap Mexican food. See? So much better than debt repayment.

In the next few posts I’ll recap some of the awesome stuff we ate and the cool places we ate it in. For now, enjoy the above picture of the crazy delicious ceviche I ate within the first hour of being in Cancun, the home base of our trip. It was from one of the restaurants at the Westin Resort where we stayed, so by far not the most authentic or the cheapest eats we had, but still really good. Every bit as bright, colorful and refreshing in taste as it was in appearance, it was a pretty good start to what would be a a fantastic week in Mexico.

The stuff foodie dreams are made of

I’m a pretty lucky girl in that I can’t remember the last bad meal I had in New York. (Well, actaully, that’s not entirely true. The McDonald’s Happy Meal I had while inebriated on new  year’s eve in the Lower East Side wasn’t exactly one of the better dining moments I’ve had, but why even bother counting that?)

I not only don’t really have bad meals, I actually tend to have lots of really great meals. Some so incredibly awesome that I dwell on them, long after they’ve been digested.

East and West coast oysters

Last week, for example, the boy and I ate at the recently opened John Dory Oyster Bar at the Ace Hotel, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. In fact, I woke up thinking about it the next day, wondering dreamily as I lay in bed, Did that really happen? ‘Cause God it was good. Like a lovesick schoolgirl, I want to doodle I JD on my notebooks and sign my name Angie Dory Oyster Bar, just to see what it would look like.

It being an oyster bar and all, we of course had to get some of the not-so-attractive but oh-so-delicious mollusks. To give ourselves a taste of everything, we opted for the platter of East coast and West coast oysters, of which we got three kinds for each coast.  Two shells in the middle contained spicy horseradish and a zesty blend of juices and herbs, each perfect for gently dabbing on top of the silky smooth oysters before being slurped down. I’m not an oyster expert but these seemed pretty perfect to me in their briney, peppery juiciness. They tasted like everything that is good about summer days at the beach. Continue reading

Wish you were here

It’s not always about trendy gourmet food and fancy restaurants. I’ve found that the best food memories can sometimes come from something as simple as an an afternoon snack on a lazy day. Something small, easy, cheap. Shared with good company and a nice setting, the smallest thing can turn into one of those memories that you look back on and think, “Man, I wish I was there right now, having that again.”

Pineapple and piña colada fruit bars and fish ceviche

Such was the case during my recent trip to Miami, when Flaneur and I spent one afternoon walking around Key Biscayne along a quiet, empty stretch of beach on Cape Florida. We stopped at the Lighthouse Cafe, one of only two places to eat in the state park, and picked up a couple of fruit bars to enjoy in the warm weather. But because there was a minimum for credit card purchases (and I am perpetually cash-less), I added a small serving of fish ceviche to our order.

Sitting on the cafe’s wooden deck while the breeze blew and the warm Florida sun beamed down on us, I couldn’t have wished to be anywhere else. Cold, sweet fruit bars with hunks of pineapple and coconut followed by the zesty, juicy fish ceviche made for the absolute best snack I can recall having in a long time.

Now as I sit looking out the window at the steely blue of a late, winter afternoon in New York, I can almost taste the warmth of that peppery fresh ceviche and the bright, colorful flavors of a piña colada fruit bar. Man, I wish I was there right now, having that again.

Yucca, ceviche and caipirinhas, oh my!

I was on the phone with my mom recently when she asked me if they sold yucca in New York City supermarkets. I told her that with the amount of Hispanic people in New York, Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and every other nationality south of the border, I was sure they did. I had never seen it myself but that’s just because I never looked for it.

Yucca, a starchy vegetable which is actually the thick, gnarled root of the plant it’s part of, was just as commonplace in our kitchen, if not more so, than your standard potato in a regular American household. My mom cut off the thick, ugly brown exterior to reveal the white, fibrous inside, which she then either boiled, mixed in soup, mashed, or fried.

Fried yucca

“Ok, well I think I’m going to mail you some,” she announced.

“NO!” I blurted out. “Please, do not mail me any yucca. Please.”

I imagined myself opening a box at work, where she usually sends my packages, and pulling out the large, ugly, almost turd-like yucca roots. What would I even do with that? My flimsy set of butter knives and the one fruit paring knife I own wouldn’t know what to do either when attempting to get through the yucca’s tough outer layer.

Thankfully, I was able to talk her out of it. Continue reading

January: out with a bang!

January can be a rough month to get through in New York. Christmas lights are gone, parties are over, the next extended vacation is God knows when, and winter seems to only be getting meaner. All-around unpleasantness permeates the air.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating a bit. It’s not that bad.  But it is cold. And the lights and parties really are no more. And my next day off really isn’t till May (not kidding).  But thankfully, there’s something to help end the month on a good note: NYC Restaurant Week.

Eating this almost makes you forget you're not on vacation somewhere warm and exotic.

This twice-yearly event, held in summer and winter, invites recreational gluttons like me to food hotspots around the city with prix-fixe lunch and dinner menus.

Flaneur and I went through the list of participating restaurants, read the reviews, looked up the menus, and finally decided to brave the cold and venture out in search of our chosen RW pick, Rayuela in the Lower East Side.

Almost anywhere would’ve been fine, as long as it meant getting out of the cold, but Rayuela (Latin, though not specific to any particular country) was especially nice to step into. Deliciously warm and softly lit, it had a trendy, relaxed vibe throughout its two levels, without trying too hard to be cool. A Spanish olive tree planted on the ground floor and reaching up through the second added a nice, organic touch. But it was something I wasn’t expecting, though, that really won me over: the seats. Instead of the standard type, each was a super comfortable, couch-like chair.

And luckily the food matched the seating in terms of enjoyability.

Before we got our appetizers, a waiter came by with some of the most delicious bread I’ve ever had, and that says a lot because I’ve eaten some amazing bread in my day (I’ll save my praise for the breads of Italy for some other day, but know that I could go on for-ev-er). Each roll was almost perfectly round and about the size of a doughnut hole. Ripping them open let out a gush of steam from the warm, soft middle. As if that weren’t enough, they came with a special butter mix, made with chunks of both manzanilla and kalamata olives.

De-friggin'-licious.

If the roll had been the size of a watermelon instead, I would’ve been the happiest girl in the world… but then also maybe the most disgusting.

Wonder buns were quickly followed by appetizers, mine a ceviche-like tiradito de merluzo. Made from sliced hake (the so-called ugly fish) served in a martini glass of avocado, onion and tangy citrus juices, I don’t care what this fish looked like when he swam the seas, he was taaaasty.

Next up was carne a la parrilla, which is Spanish for awesome hunk of meat. I don’t usually order big slabs of red meat but the menu mentioned yucca and I was sold. (Note: yucca, a potato-like root big in Central and South America, is one of the few things my mom made all the time growing up that I actually love.) The meat itself was great, soft and juicy, cooked to a perfect medium rare, and served with yucca chunks in a crushed-pistachio sprinkled, creamy sage-poblano sauce.

My favorite part of the meal: the sweet stuff.

My favorite part of a meal is usually the dessert, so I had high hopes for this one, and I’m happy to report: Rayuela came through. The pera de caramelo I went with, was a warm, caramelized sliced pear on top of a cinnamon wafer served with a scoop of pecan ice cream.  A great finish to a great dinner.

Once back outside in the blustery night, we hailed a cab, having come to the mutual decision of “screw this, it’s freezing, let’s take a cab home.” No more than a minute after I crawled in and the cab sped off, I was already asleep. Warm, happy and well-fed, like a fat, little puppy.